Gut Brain Axis

Gut Brain Axis

May 22, 2022 7:36 am

The gut, brain and the interconnected affair that controls our mood, health and wellbeing. 

The communication system between your gut and brain is called the gut-brain axis. The gut brain axis is the two-way interconnected biochemical signalling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. 

Our gut based nervous system is developed prior and known as the ‘first brain’ and that it evolved long before the brain as we know it, in humans. Research shows how the tiny microbes in our gut communicate with our brain and why, when unbalanced, the communication system can give rise to health issues, whether it’s a digestive disorder, allergies, anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders.

How the gut and the brain communicates?

The gut communicates with the brain via different channels, which include:

  • The immune system. The Gut brain axis is connected through the immune system, through circulating cytokines and other inflammatory signals. These gut microbes play an important role in your immune system and inflammation by controlling what is passed into the body and what is excreted. When the gut is inflamed, your immune system is switched on for too long. This can lead to inflammation, which is associated with a number of brain disorders like depression and Alzheimer’s disease. 
  • The endocrine system. This includes the hormones produced in the gut, including the satiety hormones that make us feel full after a meal. When the gut is under stress this also effects our endocrine system and hormones, as the gut is compromised in producing essential hormones for our vitality. Some of these hormones include ghrelin, the hormone which signals fullness and serotonin the hormone which makes us feel happy, and at peace. Without these hormones, a vicious cycle begins chemically and bouts of depression, anxiety and the tendency to over eat can cause low mood and weight gain. 
  • The nervous system. The neurones in our gut are connected to your brain through nerves in your nervous system. Neurones are cells found in your brain and central nervous system that tell your body how to behave. There are approximately 100 billion neurones in the human brain, however the gut contains around 500 million neurones! The vagus nerve is one of the biggest nerves connecting your gut and brain, which sends signals in both directions. The nervous system and gut connection includes the two branches of the vagus nerve, one branch sending signals from the gut to the brain and the other much bigger one transmitting information from the brain to the gut. Your gut and brain interact through the chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are often referred to as the body’s chemical messengers. Which are produced in the brain and gut and control feelings and emotions.

Gut Microbes and the effect on Inflammation and brain disorders.

Chronic inflammation of the gut leads to neuro-inflammation, or inflammation of the brain and nervous tissue. This can trigger neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimers, Parkinson’s and ALS, as well as generalised anxiety disorder. Gut dysbiosis releases metabolites and cytokines that trigger inflammation. Which affect the blood brain barrier and brain volume and can act as false neurotransmitters, resulting in altered brain physiology and neuronal function in neurological disorders, which can over time result in neuropsychiatric illness. Supporting the vagus nerve function, is proving to be the missing link to improving mental health. So by empowering the population to make impactful lifestyle shifts towards a life that supports good gut health, we actually are working to prevent not only physically disease but also mental disease.

How to reduce inflammation in the brain and body.

By nourishing, positively altering and diversifying the types of bacteria in your gut, it is possible to improve your brain health. Omega-3 fatty acids, fermented foods, pro\ pre biotics and other polyphenol-rich foods improve gut health, which in results benefits the gut-brain axis.

Sources of:

Omega -3’s: walnuts, flax seed, hemp seed, fatty fish and fish oil.

Fermented foods: Sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, miso and tempeh. 

Polyphenol-rich foods: Leafy greens, berries, cacao, herbs and spices, olives, coffee and tea. 

What is the Vagus nerve and Vagal Tone?

Th vagus nerve are the main nerves of your parasympathetic nervous system. Vagal tone is the effectiveness of stimulating the vagus nerve. The stimulation of the vagus nerve will be dependent on the quality of the vagal tone. Vagal tone refers to the strength, speed, and efficiency of the vagus nerve response.

Lifestyle elements to support a healthy vagal tone:

Deep Breathing: Whilst breathing is part of our autonomic nervous system it is also a process that we can control. Deep belly breathing, lengthening of the exhale, can have an immediate impact on the nervous system, stimulating the vagus nerve and therefore the parasympathetic response. A simple way to breathe deeply is to practice box breathing. Breathing in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, breathe out for four and hold for four. Repeating this process, until the brain and body feel more at ease.

Singing, Gargling or Chanting: Both gargling and singing mechanically stimulate the vagus nerve by vibrating the muscle fibres at the back of the mouth in the throat area. Due to part of the vagus nerve being located in this area, activities such as gargling can directly stimulate and fire the nerve fibres in the vagus.

Tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system, rest and digest: When the vagus nerve is stimulated certain muscles in the heart help to slow heart rate. When we practice gentle movement with the breathe, like yoga we increase blood flow and oxygen in the body and in result tap into our parasympathetic, which lowers stress and allows the vagus nerve pathway to open. 

Cold Exposure: It’s been discovered that immersing the body in cold water is key to stimulate the vagus nerve. Exposing your body to acute cold conditions, such as taking a cold shower or splashing cold water on your face, increases stimulation of the vagus nerve. While your body adjusts to the cold, sympathetic activity declines, while parasympathetic activity increases.

The connection between our gut and our brain cannot be denied, we've only recently started to develop a greater understanding of this complex crosstalk between these two organs, as well as its physical and emotional impact. The future is going to reveal more incredible research between the gut and brain connection, so begin by recognising this internal communication system and live a life that supports a positive pathway between the two.

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This post was written by Amelia Crossley